Daughter of pair in mutilation case to stay with relative

Mike Martindale, The Detroit News

Pontiac — An Oakland County Juvenile Court referee decided Monday to let the young daughter of a couple jailed in a female genital mutilation scandal remain with her grandmother temporarily as officials seek to terminate the custodial rights of her parents.

Karla Mallett agreed to let the girl stay in the Farmington Hills home of her parents, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and Farida Attar, after being informed that she will soon be joined by an uncle and other grandparents.

“She has spent her entire life with her parents and they have been ripped from her,” Mary Chartier, the attorney for Fakhruddin Attar, told Mallett in asking for some stability. “What could be more traumatic?”

Mallett made no other rulings before adjourning the hearing for Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida, both of whom are in jail.

The case resumes May 16.

Two other hearings are planned Tuesday in Oakland County.

The Attars, along with Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, are charged in a conspiracy involving members of a small Shia Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra, whose members hail mostly from western India. The three were indicted last month by a federal grand jury and accused of cutting two 7-year-old Minnesota girls brought to Metro Detroit for the illegal surgeries in February.

The sect, which is based locally out of a Farmington Hills mosque and includes about 125 families, is embroiled in a widening conspiracy that emerged last month in federal court.

Michigan Child Protective Services officials sought an emergency placement order Monday for the Attars’ daughter.

Child Protective Services is part of the state department of Health and Human Services and often works jointly with county officials in child welfare investigations and child custody matters. Officials said the girl had been interviewed by authorities at her school last month.

Oakland County assistant prosecutor Anthony Marek and Eliza Kindal, a DHHS supervisor, both appeared before Mallett with the petition that the Attars’ parental custody is a threat to the child’s welfare because both are jailed – he in Sanilac County and she in Livingston County – and their daughter has been a victim of female genital mutilation.

The Attars’ attorneys both moved for an adjournment because they had been unable to discuss matters with their clients and the couple were not in the courtroom. Mallett agreed to postpone any further discussion of the child’s custody until next week so a phone conference call can be arranged so both parents can participate from their respective jails.

The girl’s temporary living arrangement will be revisited by Child Protection Service workers and a guardian ad litem, Karen Gullberg Cook.

As to the allegations of female genital mutilation, attorneys for the Attars and Nagarwala have said the procedure was a benign religious ritual that removed the mucous membrane from genitalia of elementary school age girls.

“... And regarding the procedure, it occurred two years ago and is a procedure done by millions of people,” Chartier told the referee.

Mallett, who will ultimately decide whether to authorize a petition on parental custody to be passed on to Oakland Circuit Judge Victoria Valentine, was not moved.

“It may be a religious act in their country but in this country is illegal,” the referee said.

Cook said she “was not totally familiar” with the family’s culture, but stressed she wanted to interview the girl before the child has any more telephone conversations with her parents.

Conversations have been permitted since their jailing but have been conducted in English and been limited to how the girl is doing in school, a talent show and books, her parents’ attorneys told Mallett.

“I will allow the telephone contacts to continue but it must be in English,” Mallett said. “Ms. Cook will need to speak with (the child).”

Mallett is scheduled to supervise two other parental custody hearings on Tuesday, each regarding a family with two children who have allegedly been sexually mutilated.

The parents in other cases have not been criminally charged or jailed.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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